Wondering What to Do About the SAT/ACT?

If taking the SAT or ACT is on your “to do” list this year, you’ve probably found yourself navigating a chaotic situation. Spring test dates were cancelled. There might be additional test dates in the late summer and fall. There might be online testing options. There are a lot of “mights”. Things seem to be changing every week, and there isn’t any certainty about what will happen, or even whether you’ll get a chance to take the test before college applications are due. 

Like it or not, standardized testing has always been a part (and sometimes a big part) of the admissions process for many colleges. It’s so ingrained in our minds as a vital hoop that you need to jump through on your journey to college that the thought of not taking the SAT or ACT (or not being able to retake them if you didn’t get the score you were hoping for the first time around) can make you panic. 

First, the important things to know: 

  • Many colleges (many, many) have adjusted their testing policies. Some have waived testing requirements for the high school class of 2021, so you have the option to either submit scores or not. Some have even nixed testing requirements for good. This is also true of colleges who have traditionally required SAT subject tests. 
  • Of those who are still planning to use test scores as admission criteria, many are extending the deadline for submitting scores, so if you end up taking the test in the late fall or winter, you will still be able to send those scores, even if the application deadline has already passed. 

Your big question is probably Do I need to take the test?  This is both easy and not-so-easy to answer. Your first step should be figuring out whether or not the colleges you’re applying to have adjusted their policies. You can see a list of test-optional colleges at FairTest, and it’s always a good idea to double-check the college’s website or call their admissions office. 

If the college is indeed test-optional, then the answer is no. If you haven’t already taken the test (or you did but weren’t happy with your scores) you don’t need to sit for it now. Colleges understand that the world is upside down, and if they’ve chosen to alter their testing policies, they’re doing so because they don’t want anyone to be at a disadvantage. You’re good to skip it. 

If there are colleges on your list that still require the test, it’s more complicated. If you’ve been trying to register, it’s possible that you haven’t been able to get a seat, and you might be freaking out. Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over how many testing sites are open or how many seats are available. Keep trying to register. But also keep in mind that there are lots of other people who can’t get a test date, and colleges will have to adjust accordingly, probably by giving people more time to submit scores. They’re not going to limit applicants to just those people who had the chance to test before March 2020. They’ll sort something out. In the meantime, keep studying so all of your preparation doesn’t vanish from your brain, but don’t lose sleep over it. 

Even if all of the colleges you’re applying to are waiving the testing requirement for the high school class of 2021, you still might feel wary about not taking the test. Sure, the colleges say they aren’t going to require test scores, but are they winking at the same time? If you don’t submit scores, even through no fault of your own, are you actually going to be doomed to denial? 

Nope. While this might have been a valid worry in the past (does “optional” really mean optional? does “highly recommended” actually mean “do it or else?”) the situation we’re in now is very different. Colleges certainly aren’t going to hold people accountable for something they can’t do. Since they have no way of knowing who couldn’t take the test for logistical reasons and who could have taken it but just chose not to, they can’t reasonably use it as a criteria. That means everyone gets a pass. Still need some reassurance? See what Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, had to say in his recent blog.

If we’re looking for silver linings in the pandemic, this might be one of them. Plus, the current complexities around testing have led more people and institutions to think carefully about the value of standardized tests and the issues they raise around equity in higher education. That can only be a good thing. 

There’s plenty of college-related stuff to do this summer. Don’t waste your valuable energy worrying about testing. Invest it in things that definitely matter and that you have control over…like your essays (wink, wink).

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